A spy car that has photographed over 200 illegally parked vehicles in its first three weeks on the road has been slammed by motoring groups as being little more than a council cash cow.
The CCTV Smartcar is equipped to take pictures of parked vehicles without stopping and is similar to the cars used by Google to map town and city streets.
It has handed out 215 £60 penalties in just three weeks, an average of more than ten a day.
But critics claim the Smartcar's sole purpose is to make money for the council as drivers are not given the five-minute grace period granted by traffic wardens because the car does not stop.
It is also unable to distinguish whether or not a vehicle is parked or loading goods, according to a spokesman for the Association of British Drivers.
Nigel Humphries said: 'I think this is disgraceful. If these cars don't stop how can they tell whether a vehicle is loading or if there is someone inside?
'These cars are just there to make money for the council. They were sold to the public on the basis they would target people parking obstructively or dangerously, which we support.
'But they are targeting the people they are designed to help, for example people parking in a bay for five minutes to pop to the chemist. They will drive those people away from the shops.'
Introduced by Basildon Council in Essex, the Smartcar uses a combination of infrared and automatic number plate recognition and global positioning system (GPS) to capture parking offences while travelling at 35mph.
It is designed to clamp down on dangerous parking on high streets, main routes, outside schools, along clearways, on pedestrian crossings, in bus stops and where loading and unloading is not permitted.
The distinctive white Smartcar has a periscope-mounted camera on the roof which has a range of 110 metres, and a computer in the boot which contains a pre-programmed map detailing where motorists are not permitted to park.
A civil enforcement officer then drives the £50,000 vehicle around allowing it to make its own calculations on vehicles that are illegally parked. It is also possible for the operative to take manual photographs.
Basildon Council said most people caught by the camera have been parked outside schools, on high streets, at bus stops and at road crossings.
Malcolm Buckley, the councillor responsible for the environment, denied the car was designed to boost council coffers.
He said: 'Dangerous parking can make pedestrian accidents more likely as well as posing a hazard to other drivers on the road.
'Using CCTV Smartcar will help the council deter drivers who park illegally and carelessly in the district.'
Mr Buckley said the vehicle will improve safety and be able to cover large areas, doing the work of several traffic wardens.
When not in use for parking enforcement the Smartcar will be used to tackle environmental crimes such as commercial fly tipping and dumping.
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